Abercrombie & Fitch In Hot Water
Unless you don’t frequent social media sites, watch the news, or having been living under a rock you are probably aware of the scandal involving Abercrombie and Fitch’s CEO, Mike Jeffries. Allow me to remind you what he said in a 2006 interview with Salon,
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
Amidst several anti-bullying campaigns from various organizations and Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, Jeffries seems to be completely missing the mark. Some have speculated that he was one of those kids that were excluded and is taking out some kind of “revenge.”
Several people have launched back at the elitist CEO, launching anti-Abercrombie campaigns of their own like Fitch the Homeless. In the 2 minute YouTube video Greg Karber passes out Abercrombie & Fitch clothes to homeless people in Los Angeles as he explains,
“Abercrombie & Fitch only wants a certain kind of person to be wearing their clothes,” Karber, says in a video explaining his project. “Today, we’re going to change that brand.”
Karber is urging others to do the same and use the hashtag #FitchTheHomeless to spread the word.
Who can forget the scantily clad spread of plus-size fashion blogger Jes M. Baker of the Militant Baker. Her photos are accompanied by “Attractive & Fat” to spoof the Abercrombie & Fitch logo. In an open letter to Mike Jeffries, Baker wrote,
“You've used your wealth and public platform to echo what many already say. However, it’s important you know that regardless of the numbers on your tax forms, your comments don't stop anyone from being who they are; the world is progressing in inclusive ways whether you deem it cool or not,” she added.
“The only thing you've done through your comments (about thin being beautiful and only offering XL and XXL in your stores for men) is reinforce the unoriginal concept that fat women are social failures, valueless, and undesirable,” she writes.
What does this mean for the popular retail establishment? U.S. sales fell 17 percent in the first quarter of the year, and future profit forecasts have been cut according to the Los Angeles Times. Jefferies tries to cite inventory shortages as the problem.
Abercrombie issued two apologies regarding its CEO’s remarks. In the first apology Jefferies said that he “seriously regrets” that his “choice of words was interpreted in a manner that has caused offense.”
The second apology was made after a group of teen activist went to Abercrombie’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, to protest the unkind remarks made by Jefferies which sparked a statement that claimed the brand is committed to “anti-bullying in addition to our ongoing support of diversity and inclusion.”
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.